Letting Go & Letting Come: An Ash Wednesday Litany

This year I created a litany for our Ash Wednesday gathering at MCC. I felt compelled to do this, because many of the confessions that are available (to my knowledge) tend to be anti-human. They play into a negative and unhelpful theology that says being human is a bad thing. Yet, in the scriptures, God calls being human good! I’m more and more convinced that bad theology creates bad anthropology. When we misunderstand who we are, and how God sees us, that can lead to toxic theologies that don’t contribute to our healing, wholeness, and flourishing.  

Our problem isn’t that we are human; our problem is that, often, we treat one another in ways that are subhuman. Gossip, hate, greed, and all of the negative and painful ways we can live, aren’t examples of just “being human.” Instead, they are examples of things that happen when we live beneath our humanity. So, below is the text we used during our gathering last Wednesday evening. I wanted to create a sense of acknowledging the ways we’ve lived sub-humanly, and then also opening ourselves to what could be, if we choose, with God’s help, to live into the fullness of our humanity.  

Note: The underlined text is intended to be read corporately. 


Our Source and Ground of Being,
In you we live, move, and exist.
In your image we have been made.
You celebrate the goodness of our humanity,
and call us to live fully and love deeply.

Yet, today we confess that, in many ways,
we choose to live beneath our good humanness.
In things we have done, and things we have left undone,
we have neglected our calling to be your image bearers
to all of creation.

We confess, Lord.
We have dehumanized others by refusing to love them, by gossiping about them, and by making fun of them.

We confess, Lord.
We have dug our heels into us versus them thinking that makes it easy to condemn entire groups of people that we do not know.

We confess, Lord.
We have been reactionary, allowing fear to control us and dictate our actions.

We confess, Lord.
We have sought an eye for an eye, instead of loving our enemies.

We confess, Lord.

We have closed our ears to the cries of the poor and oppressed,
the immigrant, the orphan, and the widow among us.

We confess, Lord.

We have been greedy, and in our lust for more we have closed our eyes to all the opportunities to share out of our abundance with the hungry, the naked, and the stranger who are in need.

 We confess, Lord.
We have failed to steward creation responsibly, thinking only of ourselves and not of future generations, or the One who gifted us such a beautiful world.

 We confess, Lord.
And in the process, we have dehumanized ourselves.

We have willingly defined ourselves as consumers, and taken our identity and worth from how much money we have or what we possess, instead of grounding our identity in our calling to bear your image.

We confess, Lord.
We have been hypocritical, judgmental, and angry;
All of these are destructive, not only to others, but also to ourselves.

We confess, Lord.
We have used our religion as a weapon of exclusion,
instead of building a bigger table for all.

We confess, Lord.

Give us eyes to see,
ears to hear,
and hearts that are open.

Let it be, Lord.
May we live into the fullness of our humanity,
the humanity that you called “good.”

Let it be, Lord.

May we live with hands open in generosity toward God,

our neighbor, and even our enemy.

 Let it be, Lord.
May we take seriously the call of Jesus to embrace our crosses,
instead of seeking crosses for our enemies.

Let it be, Lord.
May we steward the earth, and our brief lives here, with gratitude and care.

Let it be, Lord.
May we tune our hearts to the music of the Spirit,
following her lead as we take the next right step on our journey.

Let it be, Lord.
May we live lives that imitate Jesus, being broken and poured in love for others.

Let it be, Lord.
May we practice resurrection, here and now.

Let it be, Lord.
May we experience the full and abundant life,
to which Jesus invites us, here and now.

And everybody said,


Dear Donald : An Open Letter To President Trump

Dear Donald,

By the time most people read this you will no longer be the President-Elect of the United States of America. Instead, you will be the newly inaugurated forty-fifth President of the United States of America. There may not be another position in the whole world that comes with as much power and responsibility as the one you are about to undertake, which is also the very reason that I am writing this letter.

First, in the interest of full disclosure, I did not vote for you, nor do I support your stated agenda for our country, or your consistently divisive rhetoric. As a leader I have found that hearing the views of those who do not hold my positions is vital to the overall health of my community. I hope this is a value you share, and you will take these words (which I know you are very unlikely to ever read) of concern in the spirit they are written, which is a deep concern for the future of our country, and my children.

There’s a story in the Hebrew scriptures about king Solomon that I think applies to anyone in a position of leadership, especially one that carries as much power, responsibility, and influence as the office of the Presidency. Found in 1 Kings 10, the story follows a recounting of Solomon’s wealth and building initiatives. He had much prosperity, he was responsible for the building of several tremendous structures, and he was developing a reputation around the world as a successful, wealthy, powerful king. Then, the queen of Sheba arrived for a state visit, to see if Solomon was really as successful and legit as his reputation insisted.

And she was impressed with what she saw.
The text says that it “took her breath away.”

Her response was to tell Solomon that God had made him king “to uphold justice and righteousness.” Now, I have to tell you, I don’t think God made you president. I think it was actually the Rust Belt that made you president. Nevertheless, the last part applies. You have been given a role that carries great power, and with that comes the responsibility of upholding justice and righteousness for all people. Another way to put it is this: your responsibility now is to make wise decisions that are just and lead to the flourishing of your fellow citizens, and hopefully, the world. So, I’d like to offer my two-cents about some of those decisions.

First, you must uphold justice by condemning the racism and xenophobia that were energized by your campaign. No matter how you slice it, you were endorsed by white supremacists. Something about your message was appealing to them, and that should be deeply troubling to you, and everyone else for that matter. This can’t be papered over or ignored; it must be repudiated by you, boldly and forcefully.

Second, you must uphold justice by championing the freedoms we enjoy, for all Americans. This means Muslim Americans. A registry of Muslim Americans, that singles people out based on their religion, is unAmerican and unacceptable. This also means not undermining the free press. Just because you don’t like what a reporter says, or just because someone says something unfavorable, doesn’t mean you get to call everything you don’t like “fake news.” All Americans must count. That means LGBTQ Americans who want, not extra rights as Ben Carson suggests, but the same rights other Americans enjoy. That also means minorities that live in fear now because of your rhetoric. They must know that they matter, that their voice has a place in the national discourse, and that you support their flourishing as well.

Third, you must uphold justice by making sure that the most vulnerable among us are cared for. This includes the poor and the sick. The Affordable Care Act is surely not perfect, but repealing it without a replacement is immoral and unjust. Millions of Americans would be without coverage and without lifesaving treatments. This is America, and that can not stand. Do not let your Republican colleagues put the cart before the horse. Don’t let them take out their obvious disdain for President Obama and his policies on the American people, one of whom happens to be my mother. You are a billionaire and many of the people you have surrounded yourself with share your affluence. Don’t forget the poor. Don’t rig things in favor of the rich. After all, you were elected, in large part, by people who are struggling economically,  because you promised to be their champion. Be it.

Finally, you must uphold justice by thinking about the future and not just the present. The decisions your administration makes and the policies it implements will shape the world that our children grow up in, and that requires significant thought about what we are doing. Don’t make decisions today just because they are financially or politically expedient for this moment. Instead, have the courage to make choices that are forward-thinking, and that will leave a better world behind for our children and grandchildren and so on. This means taking climate change seriously, and not creating an anything goes policy when it comes to curbing our impact on the climate. This is going to be one of those issues that future generations will look back on, either with pride or disappointment. When Copernicus and Galileo insisted we live in a heliocentric solar system, they were called heretics and renounced. Today, we see how foolish that was, because they were right. I think the 97% of the scientific community that says not only is climate change real, but that we are impacting it in significant ways, probably know more than you or I about the issue. We should let them help shape our policies in wise ways moving forward. This forward-thinking approach also applies to the financial markets. We are now on the other side of difficult recession. The economy is continuing to improve. Don’t roll back regulations and adopt the same policies that led to the economic downturn. Think bigger than now. Our future generations will be grateful that you did.

President Trump, your job is not an easy one. The task is immense, the pressure is intense, and there will always be something that needs your attention. As a Christian, pastor, husband, father, and human being, I join with so many others asking you to be part of the healing process. Americans can not unite after the brutal, nasty campaign season we experienced without healing. Be patient. Honor differences of opinion. Be big enough to not retaliate in childish ways, and to apologize when you’re wrong.

Be a president for all Americans.

As for my part…

I will refuse to dehumanize you.  I will offer critique when it’s needed, and I will acknowledge it if you do something good, that upholds justice.

I will also be praying for you. Praying that you will uphold justice and righteousness, that you will be a good leader for our country and the world. I will also not be afraid to disagree with you, or to resist any unjust policies or attitudes that come from your administration.

Finally, I will seek to be the best human being I can be, and I will seek to make my own community better. I will use my sphere of influence, as best I can, to uphold justice, as well.

Grace and peace,



It’s the morning after, and I’m doubling down on a few things…

Here we are. November 9th, 2016.

The morning after. 

Like many of you, I’m sure, I watched the election results pour in until the wee hours of the morning. I expected a close contest, but also like many of you, I didn’t expect such an emphatic electoral college win for Donald Trump.

So, here we are, it’s the morning after, and I am going to double down on a few things.

I am doubling down on love. The election is over now, but in its wake it leaves us with a fractured country. Which means fractured communities. Which, in turn, means fractured relationships. And love is our only hope–the healing, transforming power that only love can bring into being. I refuse to hate. I refuse to be bitter. I choose love. I will love my Trump supporting neighbor and my Clinton supporting neighbor. I will love my white neighbor and my black neighbor. My Christian neighbor and my Muslim neighbor. My straight neighbor and my LGBTQ+ neighbor. My enemies and my friends. People who share my worldview and values and those who seem to live in ways that are opposed to my worldview and values.  I will seek to live with an open heart, open eyes, and open hands. Because, love wins.

I am doubling down on honoring the humanity of all people. Because, you see, before we are a particular gender or race, sexual orientation or political affiliation, religion or socioeconomic level, we are human beings. We embody the image of the Divine in our humanity, because of it, not in spite of it. This means that we all share our humanity, this is our deepest common ground, the place from which we can perhaps begin to mend our brokenness as a society. I will seek to meet every person in this place, the place of our humanness. 

I am doubling down on being a voice for those who live on the margins. I will not be silent in the face of discrimination. oppression, and injustice. I will stand in solidarity with Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ+ community, and anyone who finds themselves on the outside looking in. The table is big enough for all, friends. Every person must be welcomed to the conversation. Agreement–with me, you, or anyone–is not a precondition. We must choose to listen to and include one another, now more than ever. I will seek to leverage my privilege for the sake of those without privilege, my voice for the voiceless, my influence for those who have none. This is both the example and call of Jesus to us. In the marginalized we meet Christ. Do we have eyes to see? Ears to hear? Are our hearts open?

I am doubling down on being a person of peace. This is both external and internal. I will not be complicit in combative, violent, hateful speech or actions. I will not engage in hostile arguments or defend my beliefs and convictions in aggressive ways. I will seek to live from a place of wholeness, generosity, and grace. I will share but not coerce, invite but not demand. I will seek to hear and heed the voice of Jesus, saying then and now, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, if only you knew what made for peace!” I will seek to be a peacemaker wherever I may be–my home, my community, our world. 

It’s the morning after, friends. The sun came up. The world still spins.

We still have much work to do. 

So, may we do it with love, grace, and courage.
May we engage to bring healing, mending, and reconciliation.
May our practice match our preaching.
And may we find that we are not alone in this.
We never have been.

Good Christian Sex?



When I saw the title of the book, my interest was piqued. The folks at TLC Book Tours asked if I would be interested in participating in a blog book tour of the recently released Good Christian Sex, by Bromleigh McCleneghan. I’ve never really done such a thing-a review on my blog-but I would get a free copy of the book, and it is a book that I was familiar with and would like to read…so here we go (except you, Mom. Please stop. Now). 

First, a bit about the author. From her bio:

Bromleigh McCleneghan is Associate Pastor at Union Church of Hinsdale in suburban Chicago. She is the co-author of Hopes and Fears: Everyday Theology for New Parents and Other Tired, Anxious People, and her essays and articles have been published in The Christian CenturyMinistry MattersFidelia’s SistersCircuit RiderCriterion, and the website of The United Methodist Church. More at www.bromleighm.com. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Now, on to the book.

There’s so much about this book to like. It’s accessible, interesting, entertaining even. More importantly, however, the greatest gift McCleneghan offers in these pages is that she takes on the bogeyman without fear. This bogeyman, of course, is sex. Christians have a complicated relationship with sex, and it is bound up in so much guilt, fear, and shame that any frank and honest discussion of it leads to all kinds of awkwardness. In fact, the extent of much of the conversation for so many now-adults-who-grew-up-evangelical in the 1990s, for example, was “Just say no!” Anyone remember the D.C. Talk hit, I Don’t Want IT?

You. are. welcome.

McCleneghan offers a summation of this approach in the Introduction:

Sex is dangerous and shameful and sinful and a tool of the devil until the day you are married, at which point it is awesome and a gift from God. Good luck! (p.11)

The problem with this approach, she points out, is that human beings are sexual beings; that’s part of our makeup, and an important part. The approach she describes above, known as “purity culture,” which was the experience of so many of us, doesn’t honor that, or even acknowledge this reality. Instead it creates a fear of the other, especially of the feminine, and approaches anyone we might have a sexual attraction toward as a threat. And the results produced by purity culture don’t end at “I do.” Many of the young people that lived in such a context, now married, still experience a significant amount of shame around sex. We must have a sexual ethic, she argues, that can acknowledge this truth about us (we are sexual beings), and offer us a way to approach and engage our sexual-ness, without shame.  

A few McCleneghan’s ideas will ruffle the feathers of some, maybe a lot. She argues that there’s a difference between chastity and celibacy, for example (see chapter 4, Singleness, Sex, and Waiting). Yet, she also talks about sexual sin. For McCleneghan, good Christian sex is less about acts, and more about how the partners view and care for one another. She writes, 

…sexual sin is less about particular acts or the way they’re carried out than the way partners treat each other; sexual sin is about a lack of mutuality, reciprocity, and love. (p.69)

Indeed,  she spends an entire chapter (chapter 5) on the need for vulnerability-being truly naked with your partner. Essentially, she argues that the command to love our neighbor as ourselves also applies in the bedroom. She talks about “just sex,” meaning sex that is not simply using someone as a means to an end, for example, but is based in mutual care and a desire for the flourishing of the other (she has a whole chapter on this: Playing Fair, the ethics of good sex).

In sum, Good Christian Sex offers a helpful and healing voice that could be a soothing balm for many who grew up in a Christian culture that didn’t really know how to approach a conversation about s-e-x. McCleneghan approaches the conversation in a relaxed manner. She is clearly comfortable in her own skin, so to speak, and that really allows the reader to relax, and be open to the conversation. There are probably moments when you will blush, laugh out loud, and reflect on your own experiences and journey. You will learn, be challenged, and push back. For all these reasons, Good Christian Sex is an important addition to this needed conversation among Christians of the 21st century who are seeking to understand a faithful Christian sexual ethic. 

Buy your copy now:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

The Strength of Weakness

We have an addiction to power.

The “we” here is fluid; you can plug in many different words into that placeholder and it will still be a true statement. 

Americans have an addiction to power.
Christians have an addiction to power.
Politicians have an addiction to power. 

See? It works. 

This addiction leads to lots of problems, both for our society and us. It causes us to ignore the cries of the oppressed and impoverished. It causes us to be harsh and cruel with those who challenge our power and privilege. It causes us to blame the victims, and not the victimizers (because they share our power). This addiction causes us to resist calls for justice and equality, because we fear it will somehow diminish our place of dominance. 

We have an addiction to power, and like all addiction, it’s killing us.

This current election cycle has, once again, exposed our habit. We can see its hooks in us, particularly when we start talking about “strength.” See, everyone wants to appear strong. And to do so, you need displays of strength.

we belittle those who seem weak or different,
we speak harshly and condescendingly to those with whom we disagree,
we use our place of privilege to demean and debase those who don’t have access to power. 

We have an addiction to power, to shows of dominance and strength.  

Once, when Jesus and his disciples were on a journey, he overheard them arguing about which of them would be greatest, strongest, first. Notice his response:

They entered Capernaum. When they had come into a house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about during the journey?” They didn’t respond, since on the way they had been debating with each other about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be least of all and the servant of all.” Jesus reached for a little child, placed him among the Twelve, and embraced him. Then he said, “Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me isn’t actually welcoming me but rather the one who sent me.”
Mark 9v33-37, CEB
Children, in the ancient world, had less sentimental value than today; children were the epitome of powerlessness. They had no realm over which they could assert dominance or control. They were innocent, vulnerable, and the bottom of the food chain. Yet, Jesus says to his disciples then, and to us now, that to experience the life of the Kingdom is to become like a little child. 
In Luke’s gospel a similar scene occurs during the “Last Supper.”

An argument broke out among the disciples over which one of them should be regarded as the greatest. But Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles rule over their subjects, and those in authority over them are called ‘friends of the people.’ But that’s not the way it will be with you. Instead, the greatest among you must become like a person of lower status and the leader like a servant. Luke 22v24-26, CEB

Jesus explicitly and specifically calls his followers to an upside down relationship to power. For Jesus, true power, real strength, is displayed in compassion, service, generosity…essentially, love. Greatness is not about being at the top of the ladder and proudly looking down on those whom we have passed on the way up. True greatness is about lifting up the oppressed and marginalized. It’s about binding the wounds of victims, while seeking justice on their behalf. In the words of a song my friend Heatherlyn wrote, “True power is love.”
Only from this vantage point do Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12 make sense:
So I’ll gladly spend my time bragging about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power can rest on me. Therefore, I’m all right with weaknesses, insults, disasters, harassments, and stressful situations for the sake of Christ, because when I’m weak, then I’m strong.
2 Corinthians 12v9-10, CEB
Weakness is strength?
Power through vulnerability?
It’s counterintuitive, but Jesus says this is what life in the reality and flow of God is like. 
So, if compassion and generosity, love and grace, kindness and empathy are seen as weaknesses in our culture of politics and power, then may we echo the words of Paul.
May we celebrate such weakness, because it is true strength, true power.  

Freedom of Religion*

Pew Research Center (PRC) released a study last year that covered a seven year span, from 2007 to 2014. According to the study, in that seven year period, the Christian share of the population fell from 78.4% to 70.6%. That’s a 7.8% drop in seven years. Yet, that’s still 7 in 10 Americans who identify with some branch of the Christian stream. That’s 70% of the population of these United States that identify with some branch or offshoot of the Christian tradition. I bring this up because there’s a persecution complex that seems to be afflicting a lot of Christians in our country. 

We (those of us who claim to belong to the Christian community) are not being persecuted. Not even close. There are people in the world who are, however. There are people who, by simply belonging to a Christian community, are risking their lives. And people aren’t saying Merry Christmas to them, either. To claim that we are persecuted here, in the United States of America, is an offense, a slap in the face, to those who actually are being persecuted. 

This brings up another, closely related, issue. There’s been more and more discussion lately about “religious liberty.” Religious liberty, of course, is enshrined in the First Amendment to US Constitution, and it reads like this:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Essentially, the government can’t tell you which church to go to or which religion to participate in. Actually, you’re free to avoid religion altogether. It’s not just freedom of religion, but also freedom from it, if you choose. 

A PRC study released in August of this year found that 40% of the respondents attended religious services at least once or twice a week, and 40% of that 40% (you with me?) reported that their clergyperson spoke about religious liberty. Among that 40%, 32% said the clergyperson spoke in defence of religious liberty, while 2% reported their clergyperson did not think religious liberty is under attack in America (6% said their clergyperson did both). 

What does this tell us? Lots of pastors believe their religious liberty is under attack. Since my cards are on the table (I’m one of the 2%), I want to offer a few thoughts about what is actually going on here. 

I think the phrase “religious liberty,” or “freedom of religion,”when it is used among Christians should often come with an asterisk. 

Freedom of Religion*

I think this would be more honest, because many people who bemoan Christian “persecution” in America aren’t really concerned about the freedom of religion for everyone; they are concerned about freedom of their religion. Lots of people wouldn’t bat an eye, and might actually celebrate, if the worship spaces of other religious traditions (especially Muslims) were under surveillance, or shut down altogether. Lots of people would support banning Muslim women from wearing their burkinis on the beach, like some regions have in France. How would they respond to their churches being surveilled? Or being forbidden to wear a cross or a t-shirt or a WWJD? bracelet (is that still a thing?)? To be blunt, it is hypocritical to complain about your religious liberty being diminished, if the diminishment of another’s doesn’t bother you.

I also think some have confused “religious liberty” with “public relations.” Here’s what I mean: You have the freedom to denounce people of other religions, races, sexual orientations, and ideologies. As long as you aren’t breaking other laws (hate speech, terroristic threatening, etc.), you can not only believe what you want, but actually speak about that belief. Publicly.  However, when the vast majority of people respond unfavorably, that doesn’t mean you’re being persecuted, or that your religious liberty is being taken away. It means that lots of people are exercising their right to free speech and religious liberty as well. You can’t have it both ways. If you want to publicly say what you believe, then you have to accept the reality that lots of people may respond unfavorably. That’s how it works. 

I think we should strive to protect the religious liberty of all people; Christian, Muslims, Atheists, everyone. I think my fundamentalist brothers and sisters have the right to their opinion. I also think those of us who might disagree have a right to express that disagreement, always civilly, always nonviolently. And they have the same right to disagree with me or others.

I’m grateful for this freedom. Truly grateful. So, let’s not diminish the sacrifices of those who sought to preserve these rights for us by claiming we are persecuted, when in fact we are just being disagreed with. Let’s not diminish the real suffering of our brothers and sisters (of any religious tradition) that are in danger because of their religious convictions around the world. Let’s agree to be kind and compassionate, all the while also being firm and convicted. Let’s agree to live out the teaching of Jesus, and actually every other major religious tradition as well, and treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. 


What is the point of being a Christian? What is the goal? If you were a visitor from another planet observing our religious gatherings and conversations, what understanding might you walk (or teleport?) away with? I would imagine that it would be easy to assume that the point is believing in the right doctrines and dogmas. After all, we spend lots of time and energy trying to discern what the right beliefs are, and the rest of our time is often spent trying to convince those who disagree with our rightness.

There’s a word for this emphasis on belief in the Christian tradition, and that word is orthodoxy. Etymologically, the word combines the Greek words ortho, which means ‘straight or right,’ and doxa, which means ‘opinion.’ Orthodoxy literally means ‘having the right opinion.’ Which, for me, has raised all sorts of questions.

How do we know who has the right opinion? There are some 36,000 different Christian denominations, all of which have differences of understanding and interpretation. Even within denominations there are a plurality of perspectives on various and sundry theological issues, and every perspective assumes that it is the correct (or more correct) one. To be sure, I think the current perspectives I hold about God/Jesus/Bible/faith are true, otherwise I wouldn’t hold them. 

Can anyone be totally correct? Is it really possible that one person or group or subset of a group could actually nail the truth down? Can a particular tradition invite you into their den and show you truth, stuffed and mounted on the wall? 

And what kind of attitude/posture comes from believing that you have it all figured out? As someone who once believed that I was that person who had conquered mystery, I can tell you the posture this attitude creates isn’t humble. Nor is it usually kind (did I just quote a Tim McGraw song?). When we think we have it all figured out, we can easily begin to think it’s our job to be the orthodoxy police for others. 

I literally told a friend once, “I have the speck out of my eye, and I am coming for the beam in yours.” As you might imagine, she was hurt by that. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true. I said it. 

What makes us think that the whole point of all this is having the right beliefs? It’s as if God will only love us and save us if we check off the right boxes doctrinally. We talk about grace, but we operate under the assumption that God will only be kindly disposed toward us if we get a high enough score on the exam.

It’s interesting that Jesus himself could not pass the exam. In his own time he was accused of being in league with the Satan, of being a false teacher and a false prophet. Jesus actually laid out some parameters for discerning who is and isn’t such a person.

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you dressed like sheep, but inside they are vicious wolves. You will know them by their fruit. Do people get bunches of grapes from thorny weeds, or do they get figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, and every rotten tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit. And a rotten tree can’t produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Therefore, you will know them by their fruit. [Matthew 7v15-20, CEB]

For Jesus, a false prophet is known, not by their opinions on various doctrines, but by the kind of lives their opinions are creating. Jesus asserts that good fruit can’t come from a rotten tree, and bad fruit can’t come from a healthy tree. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. 

But what kind of fruit? In Galatians 5 Paul describes the transformational effect of the Spirit in the life of a person with the same metaphor, fruit. He writes,

…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Perhaps the question we should ask about the trueness or falseness of a particular person’s theological positions is this: Is there evidence in them that this good fruit is being cultivated? Are they becoming more loving, and as a result, more joyful, peaceful, kind, etc.?

Jesus puts the emphasis, not on our particular theologies alone, but on the kind of person they are cultivating. Have you ever known someone who is proudly orthodox, but in their interactions with others they are hateful, mean-spirited, bitter, and harsh? How can that be? As James asks, can saltwater and freshwater come from the same spring?

I am convinced there is a drastic difference in believing in something, and believing it. Believing in Jesus, giving intellectual assent to the orthodox understandings of the tradition and scripture, is far different than believing Jesus was right, and joining in his ongoing work in the world.

You can believe in Jesus and be cruel, mean-spirited, selfish, and hateful. But if you believe Jesus, if you seek to engage the path he invites us to, then you can’t help but be transformed. It’s just what happens in you and through you.

So, I don’t think much about being orthodox anymore. Don’t get me wrong; I know our beliefs matter, because what we believe, we do. Yet our fruit, our lives, are the truest evidence of what is happening in and through our beliefs. I’m not afraid of being wrong about this or that. I’m certain I’m wrong about some things, but if the Spirit is transforming me, then I assume those things will be brought to light over time. 

Paul says, again, to the Galatians (who were struggling with the tension between law and freedom):

Being circumcised or not being circumcised doesn’t matter in Christ Jesus, but faith working through love does matter. [Galatians 5v6, CEB]

Perhaps, today, we could say this: Being orthodox or unorthodox doesn’t matter in Christ Jesus, but faith working through love does matter.